48 Organisations, Including TUC and Maternity Action, Don’t Support the Re-Introduction of Employment Tribunal Fees

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In a joint statement issued on February 26, 2024, a coalition of 48 prominent organisations, including the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Citizens Advice, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Fawcett Society, and Maternity Action, has voiced strong opposition to the potential reintroduction of employment tribunal fees in the UK. 

This statement comes as the government contemplates revisiting fees in the employment tribunals. This raises concerns about the impact on workers’ rights and access to justice.

Background: Removal of Employment Tribunal Fees

Initially, the employment tribunal fees were introduced in 2013 by the then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling. It faced significant backlash as tribunal costs ranged from £390 to £1,200 depending on the tribunal employment cases. 

However, the Supreme Court intervened, deeming fees for employment tribunal claims unlawful in 2017. The court’s ruling highlighted that the fees hindered access to justice, breaching UK and EU law. Consequently, the government abandoned the fee system, marking a victory for workers’ rights.

READ: Gap Between Working Parents Needs and Employer Support Continues to Grow

Employment Tribunal UK: The Joint Statement and Its Assertions

The joint statement issued by the 48 organisations underscores their vehement opposition to the potential resurrection of employment tribunal fees. 

The signatories argue that reintroducing fees for employment tribunal claims, with charges starting at £55 for a claim, poses a significant threat to workers’ ability to enforce their rights. The statement suggests that such fees may deter individuals from filing legitimate claims. This then creates a scenario where “bad employers are being given the go-ahead to undercut good ones.”

The signatories express concern that the government seems intent on repeating past mistakes. This is despite the Supreme Court’s previous ruling on the discriminatory impact and restriction on access to justice posed by the tribunal costs. They contend that the proposed fees may not only block individuals from lodging worthy claims but could also signal to unscrupulous employers that they can exploit their workers without facing tribunal employment cases.

Possible Repercussions of Reintroducing Fees in the Employment Tribunal UK

  • Financial Barriers to Justice: The joint statement emphasises the financial strain that tribunal fees could impose on workers seeking justice. Particularly at a time of rising inflation and subdued wages. With fees starting at £55, there are concerns that individuals may be priced out of pursuing legitimate claims.
  • Impact on Vulnerable Workers: The signatories highlight that employment tribunal fees risk disproportionately affecting vulnerable groups. This includes pregnant workers, disabled workers, and migrant workers. These groups may already be at a higher risk of employment law violations. The reintroduction of fees could further exacerbate their challenges in seeking justice.
  • Undermining Employment Rights: The joint statement argues that employment rights are only meaningful if they are enforced. Reintroducing tribunal fees could undermine the enforcement of these rights. It may create a scenario where bad employers exploit workers, less likely to face claims in the employment tribunal.

Government’s Stance and Consultation Process

The government, last month, announced its intention to consult on bringing back employment tribunal fees. 

It argues that the proposed fees are low enough to allow workers to pursue low-value claims. Further, that assistance would be available for those unable to afford them. The consultation period runs until March 25, with the government asserting that lessons have been learned from the previous regime. Additionally, they have stated the new fees would be “proportionate and affordable” in line with the Supreme Court judgment.

READ: Govt Announces Intention to Tackle Controversial Fire and Rehire Tactics in New Press Release

Concerns and Criticisms of Employment Tribunal Fees

Workers’ rights advocates, including the TUC, refute the government’s stance. They express concerns about the potential hurdles the reintroduction of fees may pose for those seeking justice. 

Paul Nowak, the general secretary of the TUC, argues that the previous attempt to introduce tribunal fees resulted in a two-thirds drop in claims, and the Supreme Court rejected the fees, citing interference with access to justice. Nowak contends that reintroducing fees would align the government with “bad bosses over workers” and characterises the move as a resurrection of failed and cynical plans.

The joint statement from the 48 organisations, including influential bodies like the TUC and Maternity Action, serves as a powerful collective voice against the potential reintroduction of employment tribunal fees in the UK. The concerns raised by these organisations highlight not only the financial barriers to justice but also the broader implications for the enforcement of employment rights and the vulnerability of certain worker groups. 

As the government goes through its consultation process, the debate surrounding employment tribunal fees underscores the delicate balance between fiscal responsibility and upholding the principles of justice and fairness in the workplace.

Redmans Solicitors and their team of expert employment lawyers can offer advice and guidance on employment law matters. Contact their employment law specialists today!

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